How to Write an RFP: 11 Tips to Score the Best Bids
Writing a request for proposal (RFP) can be time-consuming, and it can be difficult to know how much to include. While there are plenty of RFP templates available online, it’s not always clear what part of the RFP actually helps your organization achieve its long-term goals.
To help you answer this question, here are eleven tips for getting the best bid out of your RFP.
It’s not worth your time to sift through a proposal from a vendor who doesn’t have the technical capacity to fulfill your needs. Likewise, you should only send an RFP to a vendor you know will be around to support you. Once you’ve identified the shortlist of vendors who have the capabilities you need, you can ask more interesting questions around creative solutions to the problem you’re fixing.
Look at the big picture
While this may seem simple at first, it’s actually quite complicated. When writing a business communications RFP, you may be tempted to think in terms of physical needs. For example, if you’re replacing your phone system, you’ll immediately think of the number of desk phones you’ll need. But your needs don’t actually stop there. What applications will you need to get the most out of your system? Are you open to learning about new technologies that could save you time and money later?
Need some guidance on finding the right system? Check out our seven-step guide to buying your enterprise phone system. >
Weight your goals
Whether you’re working with a consultant to handle your RFP or fielding proposals yourself, it’s important to establish (yes, actually write down) a weighting system for the pieces of your RFP that correspond to your organizational goals. Don’t just think of what your personal preferences are, either – if there are other stakeholders involved in your decision, include them in the weighting. For example, if you’re running a lean operation and price is your main concern, give pricing considerations a higher weight. If, however, your goal is long-term support or revenue maximization, you will want to weight things like support and opportunity for innovation more heavily.
Let your vendors know your evaluation criteria
This may seem counterintuitive, but it’s in everyone’s best interest for the bidding vendors to know exactly what you’re asking for. If you keep your evaluation criteria hidden, you may overlook a vendor who can serve your need in a creative way you may not have considered. Likewise, if you ensure all bidding vendors fully understand your evaluation criteria, you really can compare apples to apples, and identify the vendors who just don’t seem to understand your organization.
Use clear terminology, and include definitions
If there are certain questions or proof points you require in a certain level of detail, be up front with your vendors about it. There’s no reason to toss out a great vendor because of a misunderstanding regarding how detailed a response should be. Make your terms and intent clear in your RFP so you’ll have the best chance of working with the best quality vendor.
Use fresh eyes
If you’ve been with the same vendor for years, the RFP process is a great time to fully review your communications process as a whole. Take the RFP process seriously and look at your project from a fresh perspective. Different companies approach problems in different ways, and if you’ve been with the same vendor for years it might be worth considering a new approach. As you review your processes, consider vendors who can handle multiple deployment models and industries.
Ask for proof
To protect your investment, you want to find a stable vendor who can support you today and tomorrow. How can you measure your vendor stability? Ask for references from happy customers who have worked with your vendor. Case studies are a great way to judge both how well-established your vendor is, and how clearly they understand the industry you work in.
Services are important too
It may be tempting to focus on hardware and software as you write your RFP, but what about implementation, training and ongoing support? New products with no support or training, or a new product from a vendor who might not be around in future, are too risky for such a significant investment. Ask your vendors for a clear implementation and support action plan.
Get your pricing game together
This tip isn’t for the RFP itself, but rather, your mindset around the RFP process. With the RFP process you should have a general idea of the pricing you’re expecting to see. When your bids come back, if one or more vendors quote a price that’s much lower than the one you had in mind, or if it’s significantly lower than the other vendors, it’s likely that vendor didn’t understand the full scope of the project. Likewise if a vendor (or multiple vendors) comes back with a bid significantly higher than expected, something about the project isn’t translating well through your RFP.
If you’re in the type of organization that’s large enough to require an RFP, chances are your decision-makers have clear limits on what you can and cannot accept in an RFP. But there can be nuance, even in a clearly-written RFP. It’s important to be as explicit as possible in describing your needs to be sure you’re getting a realistic bid, but it’s also important to leave room for your vendors to show you they understand the way your organization operates from start to finish. A vendor who looks at your RFP as a stand-alone experience is not going to give you the same value as one who is able to connect the lines across your organization and help you toward your goals.
Don’t neglect a bidder’s executive summary
The executive summary is a vendor’s way of communicating with you about the way they work. Sure, a vendor may sell the specific product you need to fulfill your request. But does the vendor understand where your organization is going? Are you going to have to redo any of this work because your vendor is only focused on the specific task at hand? Or is the vendor showing you that they fully understand what’s causing you headaches and helping you solve problems? Take the executive summary seriously as a tool for getting to know the company at a high-level. Look for proof that a vendor is truly a partner for your organization.
Writing a good RFP and evaluating your bids can take a lot of time, but for the level of investment, it’s crucial to get it right. With these tips, you should feel confident that when your vendors submit proposals, you’ll be able to judge clearly who the best partner for your business is.